Maine Roots

A blog about all things Maine


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Christmas Shopping in the Old Port

Shopping in the Old Port is a pleasure at any time of year, but the holiday spirit adds a sense of excitement and anticipation to the atmosphere.  As the time until Christmas morning grows shorter, I wanted to quickly highlight a few of my favorite Old Port stores and recommend that you stop in – you might find the perfect gift for someone on your list!

My puppy, Lexi (pictured below – isn’t she cute?), will surely be getting a gift from Fetch – located at 195 Commercial Street, this pet store is right on the waterfront.  Since opening in 2000, their mission is to improve the quality of life of animals and their people with healthy natural diets (and other edibles), a great selection of gear, a depth of knowledge, and a spirit of good fun.  Based on my shopping experiences there, I certainly feel they’re delivering on their mission!  They have a great set up for browsing and an excellent selection of food, gear, and pet accessories.  Check out their website and stop in – their hours are Monday – Saturday 10am – 6pm and Sunday 10am – 5pm.

Lexi

Portland offers a number of quality jewelry stores, but I have to highlight D. Cole Jewelers, located on Exchange Street in the Old Port.  I’ve known the owners, Dean and Denise Cole, for most of my life, and I have incredible respect for them and their family.  My brother and I are close in age to their son and daughter, Ryan and Emily, who also work in the store now, and we used to carpool to school together.  Dean and Denise were fun and easy to talk to – no small feat when dealing with teenagers – and their entire family reflects the best of Maine: generosity, kindness, and a willingness to lend a hand whenever it’s needed.  For purposes of this post, I can tell you this jewelry store is well worth the visit for its quality – their designs are beautiful and unique – and they also provide excellent customer service.  My husband worked with Ryan to design my engagement ring (check out their bridal gallery), knowing how much it would matter to me that it came from their store.  Please stop by and experience what a special place this is – their hours are Monday – Saturday 10am – 6pm and Sundays noon – 5pm (on Friday nights, they stay open until 8pm).  You can reach them via phone at 207-772-5119.

It’s no secret that I love to cook, so naturally, I love LeRoux Kitchen, located in the Old Port on Commercial Street, with additional locations in Portsmouth, NH and on Martha’s Vineyard.  This is an exceptional store for the home cook – whether you’re a beginner or a culinary whiz.  My mom and I go in every time I’m home.  They have everything from unique kitchen gadgets, to bakeware, to beverage and glassware, to cast iron pots and pans (my personal area of interest at the moment), and much, much more.  LeRoux is also offering a gift registry service now.  Call them at 207-553-7665 or stop in, Monday – Saturday, 9am – 8pm, Sunday 10am – 6pm.

LeRoux Portland

There are many wonderful stores in the Old Port, each with their own unique style, and offering a variety of merchandise from clothing to children’s toys to antiques.  Visit this great part of Maine in person to experience it for yourself – I know you will love it!  Here are a few more stores, with website links, to wet your whistle:

Bliss Boutiques

Cool As A Moose

Helene M

Old Port Card Works

Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine

For a more complete listing of local stores, click here and spent some time on the ‘Portland Maine’ website.  Good luck with your shopping this holiday season, and be sure to indulge in a little hot chocolate from Maine Bean Cafe!


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On the Christmas Tree Hunt: Part 1

Welcome to December!  In the spirit of the month, let’s talk about how and where to find your Christmas tree in Maine (to give credit where it’s due, my husband gave me the idea for this post – thanks honey!).  When I was a little girl, we would go out into the forest and cut down our own.  That’s the beauty of living on 20+ acres in the country.  I have fond memories of putting on my boots, hat, neckwarmer, mittens… and the list goes on… and then trekking out with the rest of the family, through the woods, across streams (some larger than others), and ultimately to the meadow where we would begin our search.  As romantic as this annual event is in my memory, the reality is that finding the perfect tree is a challenge – particularly when you are small and trying to identify the perfect top of a tree, which is waving 60+ feet above your head.  Having said that, I’d do it every year if I could.

I’ve broken this topic into two parts due to length – today, I’ll share information about the popular species of Christmas trees, and tomorrow, you’ll learn where to go to find your perfect tree in Maine (unless you have 20 acres, a chainsaw, and a 4-wheeler at your disposal – in which case you don’t require my assistance).

There are a variety of trees that are popular as Christmas trees – they include firs, pines, and spruces.  We’ll cover: the Balsam Fir, the Fraser Fir, the Douglas Fir, the White Pine, and the Blue Spruce.  Now that could get a little confusing. To help you sort out what’s right for you, I’ve included thumbnails and brief descriptions below:

Balsam-Fir - Mathisen Tree FarmsThe Balsam Fir is the traditional Christmas tree selection, which most of us grew up with.  It also happens to be the native fir for the state of Maine, and the most prevalent tree grown on Maine’s Christmas tree farms.  The Balsam fir has an attractive form, an appealing fragrance, and a beautiful dark green color.  With this species, check the branches to ensure they’re strong enough to hold heavier ornaments.

The FFraser Fir - Our Treeraser Fir is what Nick and I have in our house – so this picture is of our tree!  It seems to be a very popular tree here in NC – in fact, I haven’t seen tree stands with any other species of tree around – which could be due to its discovery in the 1700s by botanist John Fraser, who explored the southern Appalachians.  Some consider the Fraser fir the perfect holiday tree – it has an ideal shape, a nice scent, good needle retention, and firm branches that are able to hold heavier ornaments.

douglas-fir-300The Douglas Fir is a beautiful tree whose branches grow thick – potentially making it a challenge to decorate if it’s been pruned into a too-conical shape.  When crushed, these needles have one of the best aromas among Christmas trees.

white pineThe White Pine is the state tree of Maine and is the largest pine tree in the United States.  The needles are long – 2-5 inches, and it has almost no fragrance, which makes it a good choice for those with allergies.  Its branches are popular for wreathes and garlands due to their flexibility, but may not hold up to heavier ornaments.

colorado_blue_spruce-2006The Blue Spruce is a beautiful tree, and happens to be the species of tree used in Monument Square.  Its branches are stiff and will support many heavy decorations.  It’s known for it’s lovely blue foliage, which can appear silvery.  It also tends to have a very symmetrical shape.

While these are the five species I chose to feature, there are many more.  I hope you found this overview helpful, and come back tomorrow for information on where to get your tree in Maine!


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Portland’s ‘Polar Express’

Who doesn’t love The Polar Express?  Deep down, we’re all children who want to believe – in magic, in Santa Claus, in the impossible.  Published in 1985 and made into a feature film in 2004, The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg, offers a chance to suspend reality as you join the main character, a young boy, on his journey to the North Pole aboard the Polar Express.

Each year from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Company & Museum brings the Polar Express experience to life by transforming their train ride around the eastern waterfront into an adventure to the North Pole.  The journey begins at the Ocean Gateway and ends at the “North Pole” (in this case, a location just past the East End Beach).  It even includes a stop for hot chocolate along the way!  Check out this article from the Portland Press Herald Maine Sunday Telegram for feedback from the riders themselves – children and adults alike seemed to embrace and enjoy the experience.

For those unfamiliar with the story (in which case you should certainly read it – it’s a favorite of mine), the boy, who feels the magic is gone from Christmas, hears a train whistle roar outside his window at night. To his astonishment, he finds the train is waiting for him. He runs downstairs and opens the door. The conductor asks him “Well? Are you coming?”  He asks, “Where?” and the conductor replies “Why, to the North Pole, of course!”

As the train reaches the North Pole, the boy and the other children who were also on the train, see the elves gathered at the center of town waiting to send Santa Claus on his way. The boy is handpicked by Santa to receive the first gift of Christmas. Realizing that he could choose anything in the world, the boy asks for one bell from one of the reindeer’s harnesses.

On the train ride home, the boy discovers that the bell has fallen through a hole in his pocket. The boy arrives home and goes to his bedroom as the train pulls away. On Christmas morning, his sister finds a small package for the boy under the tree, behind all of the other gifts. The boy opens the box and discovers that it is the bell, delivered by Santa who found it on the seat of his sleigh. When the boy rings the bell, both he and his sister marvel at the beautiful sound. His parents, however, are unable to hear the bell and remark that it must be broken. The book ends with a famous quote:

“At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who
truly believe.”
Ticket prices for the train ride range from $20 – $40 – a real bargain for the long trip to the North Pole.  For $40, you can enjoy first class seating, which includes hot chocolate served in a ceramic mug that is yours to keep as a souvenir.  The entire atmosphere is festive – including decor at the Ocean Gateway and in the train cars – as well as holiday music, a visit from Santa, and carol singing.

This event is the year’s major fundraiser for the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Company & Museum, a non-profit organization committed to the preservation of Maine’s two-foot gauge railway for the education and enjoyment of the public (per their website).  They are open from May 1st – October 31st and seasonally for the special events – like The Polar Express!  Please visit the event page for more information: http://www.mainenarrowgauge.org/polar-express/ or contact the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co at 207-828-0814.  They are located at 58 Fore Street, Portland, ME 04101.


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Monument Square Christmas Tree Lighting

I’ll be providing brief posts, like this one, from time-to-time about upcoming events in Maine.  Because I love the Annual Christmas Tree Lightingin Monument Square, and it’s coming up this Friday, I thought it a good first ‘event’post.

The holidays in Maine are incredible – I’d say it’s my favorite time to be there, but the truth is that every time is my favorite time.  There is something different about the holidays, though – how can a place be so cold and so warm at the same time?  That’s what I think, when I think of the holidays in Maine.  It is such a time of joy and celebration – the frigid air can’t touch it, and arguably only enhances it.  The Tree Lighting at Monument Square is one of the events that symbolizes the holiday season to me.

This year, the 55-foot blue spruce tree will be lit by a local Make-A-Wish, and the event is this Friday, November 23rd, at 5:30pm.  Best of all –  it’s free!  There will be entertainment, including music and horse and wagon rides (also free).

For more info on the event and to see HOW they get a 55-foot tree into downtown Portland, check out these links:
http://www.portlandmaine.com/cornerstone-events/annual-christmas-tree-lighting/

http://www.visitmaine.com/search/list/event/?real=0&tag=243&centroid_class=event

I only wish I could be there!